Still, while I read the story, my mind kept drifting back to goings on in our little town. Funny how the mind works sometimes.
First, let's set the table:
Code of ethics? Check. Ban on business persons showering gifts on government officials? Check. Ban on government officials doing favors for relatives? Check. It seems like the china and silver is all polished and set.After Jack Abramoff caused a congressional lobbying megascandal in 2005, Congress passed a sweeping ethics bill banning lobbyists from showering members with gifts, fancy dinners, and airplane rides. The bill also changed the rules about what lobbyists who have personal relationships with lawmakers can do. In the Senate, husbands, wives, and other immediate family members were barred from lobbying anyone in the Upper Chamber; in the House, only spouses were banned from lobbying their own relatives’ offices.
So, let's serve the meal:
That's one delicious meal. As New York describes the main course:Politico reported that [Bill] Shuster, a Republican congressman from Pennsylvania who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was having what he described as a “private and personal relationship” with a top lobbyist at a major airline trade association, Airlines for America. This comes at a time when the group is lobbying heavily for a major bill overhauling the Federal Aviation Administration.
So, why am I having a hard time digesting this delicious meal?Lawmaker-sleeps-with-lobbyist stories are media catnip because they seem to confirm the very worst of what everyone already knows about Washington: that big-moneyed interests and their relationships with lawmakers are way too cozy and close.
So, there you have it. A juicy rumor that scandalmongers obsess over might interest prosecutors not at all. It's not illegal. It's not even unethical according to the code of ethics the lawmakers are subject to. Move along, folks. Nothing to see here.It's not entirely clear that Shuster did anything wrong -- at least, not by the standards of the lawmakers who wrote the bill regulating their relationships with lobbyists.
Coincidentally, a North Carolina ethics panel tackled the question directly seven weeks ago. "Consensual sexual relationships do not have monetary value and therefore are not reportable as gifts or 'reportable expenditures made for lobbying,'" the state ethics commission said after receiving an inquiry. In other words, lawmaker-lobbyist sex is valueless. Or invaluable. Either way, it's fine.
Oh, and if we leave the "sleep with" part of the story aside and instead fret about government officials taking jobs with companies they regulated while in office, that's not illegal, either. "Members may also leave the Hill to cash in and pad their retirement accounts. More than 100 former members are registered lobbyists." (Rollcall). Fret all you want but don't expect anything to come of it.
But like I said, I don't know why I'm even blogging about this. This story is all about Washington, DC, not Richardson, Texas. So why do I feel like I could use an antacid?
"History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme." -- Mark Twain (possibly misattributed).